Davie business sells survival
The Hurricane Store, an online disaster preparedness business started by two local entrepreneurs, offers everything you need to weather the storm.
In 2004, when Florida got slammed by four hurricanes, Bruce Saver watched with his neighbors in Davie as storm after storm swept through the state. In the days after a storm, before power was restored and when twisted branches littered the streets, they came together to take care of each other and clean up the damage.
“It’s unbelievable, the power of these storms,” Saver said. “I was born in Florida and I’ve been though Hurricane Cleo and Betsy and I remember Andrew. I remember as a little boy hearing stones slamming against our home with all the wind.”
As a professional pilot and former EMT, Saver realized the importance of being prepared, and started thinking about the supplies and plans that must already be in place before disaster strikes. He teamed up with Steve Sherman, a longtime friend with a Ph.D. in computer science, to establish a one-stop online shopping website where people can find anything they need — radios, water bottles, freeze-dried food — to weather a storm.
Now in its sixth year, The Hurricane Store offers survival gear for any kind of disaster. Saver and Sherman have customers in California gearing up for earthquakes, in Minnesota prepping for blizzards, and “in Salt Lake City preparing for the end of the world,” said Saver.
The orders poured in from New York City last August, when people didn’t know what to do with the large green splotch of a storm tracking up the east coast. Hurricane Irene went easy on the city but left much of New England underwater. After the 2011 Japan earthquake and nuclear crisis that followed, a new wave of orders — heavy on the radiation tablets — rolled in.
The website offers something “for whatever blows your way,” said Saver. The signature product is the Saver Kit, a 72-hour survival pack marketed with a nod to the owner’s conveniently appropriate last name. A basic kit that supports one person for three days costs $19.99; a four-person kit for the same period goes for $169.99.
“People need to be informed and have a plan in advance,” Saver said. “They can go to Walgreens and buy all this stuff themselves, but we wanted to put everything in a convenient backpack that they can just grab and go.”
Their patrons include Exxon Mobil, which ordered 150 crank radios for employees in Texas, and a federal government agency that bought survival packs for all of its facilities. Saver said he often gets calls from sheriff’s departments, both here in Florida or as far away as Hawaii.
“They say, ‘We need a pallet of food bars’ and then they call me back and say, ‘We need 250 blow-up beds.’ ”
Bill Dyess, also a Davie resident, is an annual patron and prepares for disasters with his community in mind. He figures he has “a 90-day capacity to care for a number of people.” He estimates that over the years he has spent about $9,000 on his supply of emergency food.
“There’s not too much I haven’t bought from that store,” Dyess said. “I’m a person who’s lived through Andrew and Wilma, and people were amazed at how prepared I was.”
Although the business side of the company is run from South Florida, the inventory is stored in a warehouse in Atlanta. “We couldn’t help but notice that we’re in the most hurricane-prone area,” company CEO Sherman said. “That could limit our ability to ship before a hurricane because we’d have to let our people leave to take care of their homes and families.”
The logistics of the company are outsourced to Crane Worldwide, a decision that allows The Hurricane Store to scale up or downquickly depending on a sudden demand or a lull in the slow season, said Sherman.
That flexibility has been critical.
The business that experienced double-digit revenue growth from its 2006 launch through 2009 hit the wall during the economic downturn, when updating the first-aid kit and stocking up on water-purification tablets suddenly seemed less urgent. The Hurricane Store saw a 30 percent drop in revenue in one year.
“Unfortunately, it’s easy to understand. When families are struggling to make ends meet, they have to prioritize their purchases,” Sherman said.
“Emergency preparedness is very important, of course. But it can’t take priority over food, mortgage payments, and gas’’ — at least until a hurricane creeps up the coast.
Sales have been constant since 2010, and this year has started off “on the same track,” according to Sherman.
Last year, they sold about 1,000 Saver kits and 3,000 crank radios, and the two partners are optimistic now at the beginning of this year’s hurricane season.
Still, the bottom line is not the most important part of business for the pair, who believe in “doing business the right way,” said Saver.
The company donated more than 1,000 meals to homeless shelters when they moved their warehouse from Kansas City to Atlanta.
And when Sylvia Wright, a 75-year-old widow from North Carolina tried to buy thousands of dollars of freeze-dried food, Saver talked her down to a reasonable amount and suggested different products that might be more useful.
“You can tell that you’re dealing with honest people,” Wright said when asked about her experience with The Hurricane Store. “They will not sell you things you don’t really need, and they take a personal interest in their customer.”
Though Florida hasn’t been hit by a major hurricane in three years, the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew is a reminder of the destructive power of these storms, said Saver.
“It’s a beautiful day and the sun’s shining in the sky,” he said. “Now is the time to prepare.” A previous version of this article misspelled Bill Dyess.